Concerning the recent discussion about watermelon threshing: I
was born on a homestead April 4, 1913. I was raised on a farm and
ranch south of Rocky Ford, Colo. Rocky Ford is known the world over
for its Rocky Ford cantaloupes. I have raised melons for shipping
and for seed.
The early-day seed threshers were built on a low-wheeled running
gear. The thresher consisted of two cast iron rollers with about
1-inch spikes cast on them to crush the melons. The crushed melons
dropped into several screens set at an angle and the rinds dropped
out the low end. The seeds and juice were caught in a tight box
underneath the screen. When it was full, sometimes we filled the
seeds in gunny-sacks or hauled the seed and juice to a pit. A
single-cylinder hit-and-miss engine usually drove the machine.
Later, machinery was pulled by tractors and PTOs drove the
machinery. I’ve threshed many acres of watermelons and cantaloupes.
The seeds had to be washed to wash off the juice and then dried. In
the early days, screens were made of window screen and the seeds
were sun-dried. Later, driers were developed to dry with gas and
propane. At one time, there were six or more seed houses in Rocky
Ford that I can name. Only two remain.
The Burrell Co. was founded in about 1890, as was the Hollar
& Co. I worked for Wood Seed for a while. We packaged and
shipped all over the country. Hollar & Co. shipped seed all
over the world. I’ve also shipped cantaloupe and honeydew. It was
big business in the early part of the 20th century.
Cantaloupes were shipped in ice cars, with bunkers of ice in
each with air scoops in the end to circulate cold air to cool the
melons. Honeydews were usually shipped in dry cars. I don’t really
know how many cars were shipped daily on the Stance railroad. I’ve
been told that the icehouse in La Junta, Colo., could ice 40 cars a
day. I could write a book on seed growing.
The main crop grown in the first part of the century was melons,
sugar beets and onions. At one time there were two sugar factories
in Otero County, but there are none now. Onions were also a big
crop grown in Otero County. Crowley County north of the Arkansas
River was also a big grower of melon and grain crops.
Francis H. Olsen
125 S. Snead Drive
Pueblo West, CO